“Then you’ll be working late?”
“Maybe a couple of hours. Why?”
“Peter Dodge called earlier to say he might drop by.”
“To see me or to see you?”
She colored. “Oh, Ike-”
He laughed at her embarrassment. “I’m just kidding, baby. C’mere.”
She came over and he put his arm around her and nuzzled her thigh while massaging her buttock with his hand.
“He’s just friendly because we’re from the same home-town,” she said defensively.
The phone rang and she left him to answer it, saying over her shoulder, “That’s probably Sykes again wondering why you didn’t call back.”
But it was the petulant, metallic voice of Liz Marcus. “Hey, Pat, I thought you promised to get here early.” Turning to her husband, she said, “Got to go, dear. Try not to let him keep you there too late.”
From the door, she pursed her lips in a token kiss.
To native Barnard’s Crossers the sprawling Goralsky showplace was always referred to as “the old Northcliffe estate.” It had passed to the Goralskys three years before, and Myron Landis, the local realtor who had negotiated the sale, never tired of telling how the purchase was made. “Cinny Northcliffe-that’s the young one, although she was the last one and was a good sixty or sixty-five at the time-gave me an exclusive in this area on the estate, and I ran an ad in the Boston papers. A hundred-twenty-thousand-dollar proposition, I figured it was worth a fifty-dollar ad. So the next day, in come these two characters: an old geezer with a beard, and this feller, his son, maybe fifty years old or so. And the old guy says-he does the talking, and he’s got an accent you can hardly understand him-‘You the agent the Nortcliff place?’
“So I says, ‘Yes, sir.’
“So then he says, ‘So how much they asking?’
“And I say, ‘One hundred and twenty thousand dollars.’
“So then he gives his son a nod and they go over to the corner of the room and they argue a little. I could hear what they’re saying, but it’s not in English so it don’t do me any good. So then they come back to the desk and the young man writes out a check and he gives it to the old man to sign. And the old man he takes off his glasses and he puts on another pair. And he reads over the check, his head moving from side to side and his lips moving like he’s spelling it out. Then he takes out a fountain pen, one of those old-fashioned kind that you fill, and he shakes it a couple of times and then writes his name like he has to draw each letter. Then he hands it to me and it’s a check for a hundred thousand dollars signed by a Moses Goralsky.
“So I say, ‘This is for a hundred thousand. The price is a hundred and twenty thousand.’ Which is a kind of crazy thing to say, because of course you don’t buy property that way. Without even showing the place or answering questions. To say nothing of arranging financing, a mortgage, a second mortgage. I mean I never sold property like that before. A check for five thousand, or even a thousand as a binder, or even an option-that would be normal, you understand. So he says, ‘You get in touch with your seller. Say you got a check for a hundred thousand dollars. I can have certify if you want.’ So naturally I got in touch with Miss Northcliffe and she says to go ahead. I told her, ‘Miss Northcliffe, where they offer a hundred I’m sure they’ll go the other twenty.’ And you know what she says? She says, ‘Landis, you’re a damn fool, and you don’t know the first thing about business. Take his offer.’ And that’s how it went.”
It was a large gray stone mansion, set well back from the street by a few acres of lawn, and encircled by a high iron fence. The rear of the house faced the sea, in fact was part of the sea wall, and as the car approached the front gate Rabbi Small and Miriam could hear the pounding of the surf against the wall and feel the chill ocean air.
The car circled the driveway and stopped at the front door. The chauffeur jumped out and opened the door for them. Almost immediately they were joined by Ben Goralsky, a tall, heavy man, swarthy, with bluish jowls and heavy black eyebrows.
He grasped the rabbi’s hand and wrung it gratefully. “Thank you, Rabbi, thank you. I would have come for you myself but I didn’t like to leave my father.” He turned to the chauffeur. “You can go now, but leave the car here. I’ll drive them back.” To his guests he explained, “All the servants except the housekeeper have tonight and tomorrow off. My father’s idea that they mustn’t work because they are of our household. But I’ll drive you to the temple myself. Don’t worry, you’ll get there in time.”
“How is he?” asked the rabbi.
“Not good. The doctor just left about half an hour ago. We had Hamilton Jones. You’ve heard of him, I’m sure. The biggest man in the field-professor at Harvard.”
“Your father’s conscious?”
“Oh, sure. Sometimes he dozes off for a little but he’s conscious all right.”
“Was this something sudden? It seems to me I saw him only recently at the minyan.”
“That’s right, Tuesday-Tuesday he went to the minyan. Then Wednesday he’s a little out of sorts, and Thursday he runs a little fever and he’s coughing, and then today when it keeps up I figure I better bring in somebody. It’s a strep infection, the doctor says. And you know how it is, he’s an old man-at his age, any little cold it can become serious.”
They paused in the ornate foyer. “Do you mind waiting here, Mrs. Small?” asked Goralsky. “The housekeeper is upstairs-”
“Certainly, Mr. Goralsky. I’ll be all right. Don’t mind me.”
“This way, Rabbi.” He led him to the wide marble staircase, which had a thick-piled red carpet running down the middle.
“When did he ask for me?” the rabbi asked.
“Oh, he didn’t ask for you, Rabbi. It was my idea.” Suddenly Goralsky seemed embarrassed. “You see, he won’t take his medicine.”
The rabbi stopped and looked at him incredulously.
Goralsky too stopped. “You don’t understand. The doctor said he had to take his medicine every four hours-all through the night. We even have to wake him up to give it to him. I told the doctor I didn’t like to wake him up, and he said if I wanted my father to live I’d wake him. They have no heart, these doctors. To him, my father is just a case. This is what I tell you to do-do it or don’t do it, that’s your business.”
“And you want me to give him his medicine?”
Goralsky seemed desperate to make the rabbi understand. “The medicine I can give him, or the housekeeper. But he won’t take it because it’s Yom Kippur and it will mean breaking his fast.”
“But that’s nonsense. The rule doesn’t apply to the sick.”
“I know, but he’s stubborn. I thought maybe you could convince him. Maybe he’ll take it from you.”
They had come to the first-floor landing, and now Goralsky led him down a short corridor. “Right here,” he said, and pushed open the door.
The housekeeper rose when they entered, and Goralsky motioned her to wait outside. The room was in marked contrast to the rest of the house, or that portion the rabbi had been able to see as they went up the stairs. In the center of the room was a large, old-fashioned brass bed, in which, propped up by pillows, the old man lay. A large roll-topped oak desk, scratched and scarred and piled high with papers, stood against the wall, and in front was a mahogany swivel chair of the same vintage; on top of its cracked leatherette cushion was another of well-worn tapestry, long removed from some ancient sofa. There were a couple of straight-backed chairs covered in green plush that the rabbi assumed probably had been part of the Goralsky diningroom furniture.
“The rabbi has come to see you, Papa,” said Goralsky.
“I thank him,” said the old man. He was small with a pale, waxen face, and a straggly beard. His dark eyes, sunk deep in bony sockets, were bright with fever. One thin hand picked nervously at the coverlet.